Estes Park is known for its stunning natural landscapes that surround the city and for good reason. However, the town also boasts a vibrant culinary scene.
When visiting Estes Park, you’ll find a plethora of options for high-quality and diverse dining experiences.
Below, I’ll share our personal recommendations for the finest dining establishments in Estes Park based on our visits over the past few years.
While there are undoubtedly many other exceptional restaurants that haven’t made it onto this list, the ones included are those we truly enjoyed. So when we say “best,” we mean the best that we have tried during recent trips to Estes Park.
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Best Thai: Estes Thai Restaurant
Estes Thai Restaurant is located at the end of Elkhorn Avenue before the intersection with Wonderview Ave., so it is a little bit tucked away but don’t let that allow you to pass it up.
Both of our dishes packed an amazing flavorful punch. Rich, creamy coconut milk formed a tasty base on the panang curry which hit a perfect balance of spicy, sweet, and savory notes. I could barely put it down.
The panang curry “came with the heat” so you might want to level down a notch when it comes to spiciness unless you really know what you’re getting yourself in for. I’d go back to this restaurant in a heartbeat.
What we loved: panang curry; pad see ew
Best Pizza: Antonio’s Real New York Pizza
There’s quite a few pizza places around Estes Park including around the Riverwalk area. We’ve had some of them in the past and enjoyed them but the one stand out pizza place in Estes Park was Antonio’s Real New York Pizza.
It’s located just north of Lake Estes and it’s an amazing pizza establishment.
When you first arrive, you can’t help but notice the wonderfully peculiar ambiance.
From its unconventional exterior design to the unique placard system used to avail yourself of service, (and let’s not forget the robot that skillfully serves your delectable pizza), everything about this place is delightfully eccentric.
But what really makes this place special is the amazing pizza.
We enjoyed a huge square-cut pizza with just the right amount of chewiness and crispy edge. The robust and tangy sauce really stuck out and was complemented by a generous layer of melted mozzarella cheese that stretched beautifully with every bite. We took the pizza home to-go and munched on it for an entire day… and it was just as good.
What we loved: pepperoni and black olive pizza
Best Mexican: El Mex-Kal Family Mexican
There are a lot of Mexican restaurants to check out in Estes Park. One way we narrowed down our options was figuring out which restaurants charged extra for chips and salsa since that just doesn’t jive with all of the Mexican restaurants we know and love.
El Mex-Kal Family Mexican fit the bill for a good place to eat and we absolutely loved it. The fresh chips and chili powder heavy salsa were on point as were the extra friendly servers. And I thoroughly enjoyed the “expresso burrito” that combined the bold flavors of tender pork verde chili, fluffy rice, and melty cheese within a warm, soft flour tortilla. Adorned with freshly diced onion, juicy tomato, and a luscious dollop of guacamole, it hit the spot.
I’m sure there are some other great Mexican restaurants still left to try and Estes Park but we thoroughly enjoyed El Mex-Kal Family Mexican. I think you will too.
What we loved: Expresso burrito; avocado tostada
Best burger: Fresh Burger Stop
So when it comes to the best burger, one of the highly-rated restaurants is Penelope’s, which is located towards the end of the Riverwalk. I’ve heard nothing but good things about that place, and I’m sure it’s a fantastic place to eat.
But we actually tried out Fresh Burger Stop, which is located in the Sinclair gas station.
And I know what you’re thinking, who wants a hamburger from a gas station? But these were far and above your typical gas station burger. I enjoyed a burger with two juicy, perfectly grilled beef patties, cooked to perfection, nestled between a soft, toasted bun and generously topped with crispy, smoky bacon. And the cheese? Perfectly melted.
The burgers were also pretty cost effective compared to some of the other options. Don’t sleep on this place!
What we loved: double bacon cheeseburger
Best Indian food: Himalayan Curry & Kebob
Himalayan Curry & Kebob is a must stop if you are in the mood for Indian food. I went with one of their signature dishes which was the chicken Nepali curry accompanied by freshly baked garlic naan.
The tender chicken, submerged by a medley of traditional Nepali spices, created a nice balance of heat, fragrant herbs, and subtle sweetness. And the lovely naan — infused with the pungent aroma of roasted garlic — put it over the top.
Brad’s chicken vindaloo experience wasn’t quite as amazing as my meal but he may have just caught it on an off day.
What we loved: chicken Nepali curry
Best Breakfast: The Egg of Estes
Following a splendid morning trek to Gem Lake, we treated ourselves to a delightful breakfast at The Egg of Estes, and it truly exceeded expectations. Their menu boasts a wide array of tantalizing dishes, but I highly recommend opting for a hearty choice, which they have plenty of.
Personally, I went with the avocado smash egg sandwich. It’s a grilled brioche bun that comes with creamy avocado generously spread over the bun, cheddar cheese dripping onto your plate, and slabs of pecan wood smoked bacon along with an over hard egg. Brad also had amazing things to say about the Cambridge skillet.
What we loved: avocado smash egg sandwich; Cambridge skillet
Best cafe: Raven’s Roast Coffee Lounge
After catching a movie in the historic Park Theater, we wanted to unwind a little bit at one of the local cafés and Raven’s Roast Coffee Lounge absolutely hit the spot. Tunes from a skillful piano player filled the air, creating a memorable ambiance and walls were adorned with an array of teas and an eclectic assortment of other products.
I was able to choose to create my own concoction from a long list of teas and with the great service, it was just a really cool place to relax in for a while.
Best barbecue: Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew
As a native Texan, I hold high standards for barbecue and I was not let down at Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew. They get special points also because they offer coupons in the visitors guide that you can get at the visitor center which saved us about six bucks on our meal!
It’s a cool place to check out and if you’re in the mood for barbecue I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. At this barbecue joint, it’s very much about the sauce. You’ll have a variety of barbecue sauce flavors to choose from unleashing a world of smoky, tangy, and sweet sensations. I went with the spicy sauce adding a fiery kick that perfectly complemented the tender meat.
What we loved: brisket sandwich (could do without the fries)
Best pub food: Cousin Pat’s Pub & Grill
Cousin Pat’s Pub & Grill is a great place to go eat if you’re in the mood for also catching the game. We ate here during one of the NBA finals games with the Denver Nuggets and it was a lot of fun watching the game with the home crowd behind their team even though they ended up losing that game.
We went with a meat lovers pizza here that was very scrumptious. If you’re a fan of indulgent, extra cheesy pizzas with toppings nestled beneath the layer of gooey cheese, and a light touch of sauce, then this is the epitome of pizza perfection for you. Make sure you don’t leave here without trying some of the desserts they have here like the elk droppings — you won’t regret it!
What we loved: meat lovers pizza; elk droppings
Best Ice cream and dessert shops
If you’ve ever taken a leisurely stroll down Elkhorn Avenue in Estes Park, you’re well aware that every few steps bring you face to face with delightful ice cream parlors, each tempting passersby with the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked waffle cones. With all of the candy shops and ice cream shops, it’s hard to know which ones to try.
We tried lots of them and I wish I could report that all of them served up equal sweet goodness but that’s not necessarily the case. I won’t call any of the ones out who are shortcomers but I found myself throwing out some cookies and fudge which is something that I just don’t do as someone with a natural born sweet tooth.
My number one place for cookies and ice cream would be Hayley’s Ice Cream. They serve up warm and gooey cookies along with a nice selection of ice cream flavors and fresh waffle cones. You really can’t go wrong with this place.
What we loved: Reese’s pieces chocolate chip cookies
We also really enjoyed the Estes Park Sugar Shack and Fudge Factory. This colorful place had some amazing fudge and some very tasty handcrafted chocolates. They also have an extensive selection of different types of nuts, candies, and also serve up Chicago style hotdogs. Because, why not? They are located towards the beginning of Elkhorn Avenue so make sure that you don’t leave without giving them a visit.
What we loved: salted butter scotch fudge with caramel; homemade peanut butter cup
Best Candy Store: Rocket Fizz
For those in search of a premier candy emporium to visit and explore, look no further than Rocket Fizz. This delightful establishment boasts a vast array of confections, spanning from nostalgic classics to delectable treats inspired by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
However, what truly sets them apart is their remarkable selection of uniquely flavored sodas, ranging from unconventional options like enchilada soda to daring choices like Buffalo wing soda.
Best donuts: All of them
I would love to crown the best donuts in Estes Park but I can’t do that because honestly all the places that we had donuts from were on point.
At the Daily Donut, I really loved their signature pink donuts. Their soft, pillowy texture embraced my taste buds and the chewiness of the donut was nothing short of perfection, providing a delightful contrast to its sweet and indulgent pink glaze.
At Donut Haus, I really enjoyed the chocolate critter, adorned with a luscious drizzle of rich chocolate but they are also known for their critters of other varieties like raspberry.
Squatchy Donuts is also a must visit if you like donuts or (Bigfoot).
Their store is an experience in and of itself. You’ll find Sasquatch memorabilia and even “artifacts” to check out as well as a seating area playing Bigfoot documentaries. It’s actually really cool stuff and worth dining in.
As far as the donuts go, they serve mini donuts which come coated with all kinds of sweet goodness. We went with the Boston cream pie and scrunchy salted caramel, which were both amazing.
If you’re a foodie venturing to Estes Park, get ready for a memorable experience as you’ll be spoiled for choice.
These options merely scratch the surface of what this city has to offer, and undoubtedly, there are countless other remarkable restaurants awaiting exploration on our future visits.
Nonetheless, these establishments truly left an impression on us, and we hope that you too will indulge in a splendid culinary journey at one of these local venues!
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.